Democratization opened the authoritarian system like a flower. Transparency was introduced as a constitutional obligation, but accountability was not. We must distinguish between both. Transparency is the right of citizens to obtain governmental information that is by nature public. On this issue a battlefield has opened between the government and the governed. It's an incipient field dilled with unstable but not inocuous tools. The IFAI is already an institution through which it is possible to demand information to learn the origin and destination of decision and money.
But accountability is something else. It is the check against the exercise of power by groups institutionalized as part of the same power. Congress supervises the executive, the judicial branch is the judge of acts that can legally be sanctioned, the federation regulates the behavior of the states; the state legislatures and the courts are a check on the power of executives and municipalities.
Although the right to information was translated into a law after decades of existence, the structure described in the previous paragraph suffers from grave defects. The state institutes of transparency have advanced very slowly and are not a measure of effective control against the behavior of those in power nor of the administration of public money. The state legislatures are not a check for the governors. In practice, the latter have swept them aside so as to turn themselves into the little viceroys that today dominate their territories without adequate checks controlling them.
Although a dose of ethics doesn't do anyone harm, we shouldn't rely on that subjective side of conduct of people in power to instill a sense of ethics in the exercise of power. We need to turn it into an externally cotrolled, obligatory norm. Accountability is the only antidote to keep corruption under control, because it's illusory to think you can control it entirely.
If the authoritarian system was oiled with corruption, in democracy it is a cancer. It's not oil but rather the most corrosive element. If corruption strengthened the state when power was unipolar, it weakens it once it has been distributed between parties, branches, and society. The situation is grave and only a reform of the instruments of checks and accountability will remedy it, but it's doubtful that the topic will really be on the change agenda that is planned for 2010.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Examining Corruption in Mexico
Francisco Valdés Ugalde takes a deeper look at corruption in Mexico: